ADHD: Can You Overcome Procrastination?
There’s a simple NLP* exercise that illustrates how people understand and relate to time, past and future…
Last month, I wrote here about how one of the most common challenges I’ve heard from the literally hundreds of children and adults with ADHD I’ve interviewed (mostly for my books) or worked with over the years is that they can’t parse time in a meaningful manner.
I can relate because this has been a lifelong challenge for me, too.
There’s “Now” and “Some Other Time.” The difference between a week from now or a month from now is almost meaningless: it’s all “some other time.”
This makes it a real challenge to both plan and get things done in a timely (no pun intended) fashion.
The self-help industry is littered with books that purport to teach people how to take on procrastination. Most boil down to bromides:
— Break big jobs into little pieces,
— Do it now!
— Define milestones and deadlines, then give yourself rewards when they’re reached,
— Use lists, and
— Resist the temptation to multitask.
For normal people — Farmers — these are self-evident or easy to use. They’re sometimes useful for Hunters, too, although most have tried them repeatedly and failed.
Few self-help suggestions, however, start with the assumption that the people reading or hearing them have a totally confused relationship to time itself. That’s where I’m beginning with this article.
There’s a simple NLP* exercise that illustrates how people understand and relate to time, to past and future.
Imagine something that you know you will be doing in a week or two (it can be something routine, like showing up at work, although a specific event like going to a party or play generally produces a clearer result). Now extend your dominant arm and point with your index finger to where you “see” that imagination.
Try it for a moment right now before you read on.
Most people who have a normal relationship to time point more-or-less directly in front of themselves. It can be a few inches, a few feet, or dozens of feet ahead of you, but it’s generally in a very specific “place.”
Now think of two things that you believe will happen some time before and after that event you just identified and point to them. People with a highly functional timeline will locate the one that will happen before much closer to their bodies, and the one that will happen later will be farther away than the other two.
People with a confused timeline, though, will spot these events all over the place, often seemingly in random places.
The situation becomes even more challenging when you try to point to past events and sort them by recency or distance, time-wise.
With a highly functional timeline, the past is generally directly behind us, with a knowable distance representing how far away in time the memory of those events are.
But some people will place the past off to their left (or right) and the future way off to the right (or left) — all in front of them. I’ve seen this dozens of times, and the problem it creates is that the past is always visible. If that past is problematic or troubling, it continuously haunts the person with a timeline organized like this because it’s “always there” in front of them.
From having done this work and taught NLP for over 40 years, I’m convinced most timeline dysfunction in Hunters is the result of the general chaos of life itself, combined with a Hunter’s natural inclination to “be here now” at all times (except when worrying, which is another article altogether).
Farmers had to learn to parse time to be able to know when to plant, weed, and harvest crops. Those farmers who were incompetent at that got weeded out of the gene pool; those good at it survived to pass their genes along to future generations of farmers. As a result, their timelines typically easily handle at least one year’s growing season.
Hunters, on the other hand, wake up hungry, go out and find food, and go to sleep with a full belly — all in a single day. At the most, their game will last them or their community a few days, so through the millennia that time-parsing skill never really got well developed and passed along to future generations.
In his Ishmael books, author Dan Quinn describes these early hunter-gatherer societies as “living in the hand of god.” They lived in food-rich environments and their food-acquiring efforts were limited to a few hours a day or a few days a week. No need to think of time in long cycles.
With a worldwide human population that never exceeded a few tens of million people until the agricultural revolution, even in northern or seasonally changing climates, there was almost always an abundance of food.
So, to get control of your timeline, try simply visualizing it and — mentally — move it to go from front to back, in front of you for the future, behind you for the past. It typically takes a few tries, sometimes repeated every day for a few days, to get there.
Some people actually reach out physically with their hands and “grab ahold” of their timeline, then pull or move it into place.
Then, when considering tasks that need to be done, place them on the timeline in their appropriate location. You’ll discover your internal, unconscious systems will help you accomplish them.
(A variation on this is taught by Dale Carnegie and others in the self-help movement that involves imagining yourself doing the job you’ve been procrastinating around and putting that visual image out in front of yourself.)
Finally, I’m fond of another technique that comes out of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) called the “Five Minute Rule.” It’s pretty simple: just start into the task you’ve been avoiding with a commitment to yourself to spend just 5 minutes on it and then re-evaluate if you want to continue or pick up with another five minutes tomorrow or abandon it altogether.
It’s derived from an old NLP technique called “breaking the logjam” and the very act of taking an action — even one limited to 5 minutes — often gets around all the internal chatter, rationalizations, fears, and complications around whatever it is we’re putting off.
Good luck and get started on that project you’ve been avoiding! ;)
*If you’re not familiar with NLP, it stands for NeuroLinguistic Programming, and is a collection of perspectives and techniques developed back in the 1960s by Richard Bandler and John Grinder to explain, understand, and modify people’s behavior, heal psychological wounds, and get control of emotions and life in general. The best books on the topic are by Bandler, Grinder, and Andreas, and great training courses are available at PureNLP.com. I’ve written three books based in NLP: Walking Your Blues Away (about working with trauma), Cracking The Code (about political messaging), and Living With ADHD (forward by Dr. Richard Bandler).